Here’s a taster from my book aimed specifically at MMA, but applicable to ALL sports:
Sport psychology has been around in a serious form for only about the last 30 years. As a science it is still very much in its infancy. Sport psychologists are at the stage where we know what works, but more needs to be done to discover exactly how these mental mechanisms operate in the brain. Ideas are being borrowed from the discipline of neuroscience that are helping to shed light in the domain, but technology needs to advance further to allow this to happen more effectively. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is also a relative youngster in terms of sport although some of its individual disciplines can be traced back over thousands of years. It is therefore unsurprising that there does not appear to be a handbook of sport psychology specifically tailored for MMA – until now that is.
I have worked providing sport psychology support to mixed martial artists for 10 years on a consultancy basis – having completed a master’s degree in the subject in 2004. I have had many clients during this period including two that have won world titles whilst I worked with them. Although, I must stress I am not wishing to take credit for this – sport psychology support is about helping the ‘client’ to help themselves – to come up with their own answers and implement a successful training programme to enhance their mental strength. I would like to feel I gave them suitable guidance, but the majority of the hard work was done by the individual fighter – I merely pointed them in the right direction. Hopefully you will find the information I present to be helpful and without some of the jargon that people often use. Most importantly it can start you on the road to becoming a better all-round fighter.
Introduction – the 4 Corners
Psychology comes from the Greek meaning study (ology) of the mind (psyche). Therefore, sport psychology is the application of this study to a sporting environment – in this case MMA.
In sport there are said to be 4 corners to performance: TECHNIQUE, TACTICS, PHYSICAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL
When pressed, most people could probably come up with examples of the first three
TECHNIQUES: arm bar; guillotine; triangle; rear naked choke
TACTICS: stand-up; ground game; decision-making
PHYSICAL: fitness (agility, flexibility, strength, power, stamina, speed); nutrition; rest
The fourth one may be a bit more of a grey area for some people. Here are some hints:
Evaluating your performance
Coping with stress
Coping with injuries
So why do most people neglect the mental side of their sport? There still seems to be a stigma attached to consulting a sport psychologist, which stems from its association with traditional psychology and pre-conceived ideas that a fighter must have “issues” if they consult a sport psychologist. This is not really the case. If sport psychology can be defined in two words it would be PERFORMANCE ENHANCEMENT. It is certainly not lying down on a couch talking about your relationship with your mother or any fetishes!!!
This neglect is a shame as differences in mental factors are most important at the elite end of sport. The other factors (technical, tactical and physical tend to be more balanced – especially in MMA with weight divisions).
Randy Couture says:
“Although most fighters believe that the fight is 90 percent mental and ten percent physical, they train 90 percent physical and ten percent mental. That is going to have to change as MMA continues to evolve or those fighters will be left behind.“
The next question is how do you improve the four corners? If you want to improve technique, you PRACTICE in training; if you want to improve your tactics for a fight, you PRACTICE them in training. If you want to improve physically, you PRACTICE in training. So what should you do to improve psychological factors? If you have not noticed the pattern yet: youPRACTICE. You can probably rattle off a number of drills/exercises you can do to improve the first three corners – sparring/rolling/weights, etc., but how can you PRACTICE in the mind? That is the subject of this manual.
I would like to end this section with a quote from a famous golfer Gary Player:
“It’s funny, but the more I practice the better I become”
This applies to ALL 4 corners!
There is also another relevant saying that “success in sport is not about improving 1 thing 100%, but improving 100 things 1%.”
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About James Barraclough
I currently work as a lecturer in sport at the Manchester College. I am also under 14s coach at a Championship football club's academy. My third role is as a sport performance (psychology) consultant specialising in football and mixed martial arts.